Parenting The Early Years

Posted by Perry

Sunday Mornings @ 10am in room S-103 we are going through a study that is designed for parents with small children. It is video based with a take home workbook. The video segments feature Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. Let me give you a taste of what the class is about.
"Dad," my first grader asked me a couple months ago, "what are you going to do when you come to my class for Parent's Day?" He was standing on the opposite side of my desk in my home study.
"What have the other parents done?" I asked, looking up from my computer screen where I was replying to email.
"Anthony's dad let each of us try on his fireman's helment and heavy jacket," he said excitedly. "It is so heavy and it smelled like smoke! Anthony's dad rescues people from burning buildings with a big ax! Have you ever done that, Dad?"
"Well, no. I haven't done that," I said clearing my throat. "What have other parents done when they come to your class?"
"Nick's mom is a doctor," John continued, "and she put a cast on Nick's arm right there in the class and then she cut off the cast and passed it around the room so we could touch it...but Taden didn't want to because he said it was gross."
"Wow!" I said, trying to join in on his excitement."
"So what are you going to do dad?" John asked earnestly.
"Well, son, let's see. Umm, what do you think I should do?"
"Mommy says you work at your computer and talk on the phone a lot."
"I guess she's right about that - but I don't think I want to do that for your class."
"Nooo!" John giggled.
"Let me talk to your mom about Parent's Day."
With that, John scampered out to the back yard as I tracked down Leslie in the kitchen. "What am I supposed to do in John's class for Parent's Day? John's going to think I'm the most boring dad in the world and he'll remember this forever," I said frantically.
Leslie started laughing.
"I'm serious."
"I know. I just got a mental image of you showing the class how you talk on your cell phone and write at your computer."
"Very funny!" I snapped. "John and I have already made that joke - and I didn't laugh then either."
Just then, John came in from the backyard and said, "Hey dad, why don't you bring your brain to class."
He wasn't joking. John had once sat in on one of my lectures at the university where I talked about the human brain. I'd used an actual human brain from a formaldehyde container I borrowed from the biology department. Needless to say, he was facinated - as were my college students.
And that's exactly what I did for Parent's Day. I explained to his first grade class that I was a "doctor" who works on feelings and that feelings begin in the brain. I showed them a colorful wooden model of the brain and then asked if they'd like to see an actual brain that I had in a cardboard box.
"Yes - show us the brain!" some students shouted.
They were now literally sitting on the edge of their seats and John was grinning ear to ear. The anticipation in that first grade classroom was palpable. I put on my protective goggles and latex gloves before reaching into the box. The children were wide-eyed - except for Taden. He was peeking through his fingers.
I spent the next few minutes answering one question after the other. And the questions ranged from the practical ("What are all those lines on it?") to the curious ("Whose brain is it?") to the theological ("Doesn't he need his brain in Heaven?").
Needless to say, I was a hit. The kids still talk about it when they see me picking up John after school. And so does John. "Remember when you brought the brain to my school, dad?" he'll say. "That was awesome!"
Whew! I did it. I made my son proud. And isn't that what every parent wants? Don't you want your child's perception of you to be as positive as possible?
That afternoon after buckling John into his car seat and traveling back home from school, Leslie and I were talking about what we might do for dinner. Then, during the brief lull, John said something that would melt every parent's heart: "Dad, I want to be like you."
Truth is, whether a child says it or not, they feel it. Children aspire to become what their parents are. And that's precisely why it's critical to be the kind of parent you want to be.
John's comment got me to thinking. If he wants to be like me, how does he perceive me? What qualities does he see in me that he wants to emulate? Suddenly I was more self-conscious than I'd been in years. Metaphorically, I began to "check myself out." Was I a patient man, I wondered. Would my son look at me and say "I want to be patient like dad is"? Was I an optimistic person? I sure wanted my son to be. Was I forgiving, empathic, comforting, kind?
Have you ever thought about that? What traits does your child see in you? Perhaps more importantly, what traits doesn't you child see in you that you wish he or she did?
From the day John was born I was so focused on what I would do as a parent - reading all kinds of books on techneques and strategies - that I hadn't given much thought at all to the kind of parent I wanted to be.
Leslie felt the same way. And the more we talked about it, the more serious we became about what we've come to call "intentional traits." We each made a list of the top five traits we wanted to be sure our children saw in us. And our lists were very different. What is more, some of the traits came naturally and easily to one or the other of us, while other traits would require more work.
Now, don't misunderstand, we are all for using good parenting techniques for disciplining and motivating; but your child's character hinges on the traits you exhibit as a parent. And who you are as a parent is not left to fate, luck, or chance. While there are plenty of things about your child's life that are unpredictable and beyond you control, you can choose to be the kind of parent you want to be.
Being a parent - not just doing parental things - is the most important calling you will ever have. But it's also the most rewardeing enterprise of your life - especially when you are the parent you want to be.
Excerpt from "The Parent You Want to Be" Copyright 2007 by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott. Zondervan Publishing House.


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